Fanatic – aka fan: A person filled with excessive and single minded zeal. A person who is extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable.
I’ve been a sports junkie all my life. Football, basketball, hockey, golf (sometimes), NASCAR (even less than golf), it doesn’t matter. I enjoy the real life drama, the underdog stories, and the unpredictability of the each game and how a season unfolds.
Baseball has always been the center of my sports universe, and is my king of sports. I played the sport from little league through (Division 3) college, and loved the competition, comradery and esprit de corps involved in performing as part of a collective group striving to win a game and attain a seasonal goal. With the other sports, my interest will wane if my team is in the midst of a down year, but not with baseball. I follow and watch my team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or falling below expectations.
The Red Sox sit atop that kingly throne, and have since the Impossible Dream year of 1967, when I was eight years old.
Fandom is a double edged sword, however. When your team wins the ultimate prize, you experience a joy that is pure. The problem is that teams flame out or outright suck a lot more than they win, and my journey with the Sox over these fifty two years has been the ultimate test of loyalty, sadomasochism, and orgasmic bliss.
Any long-term Sox fan will cringe at and mourn the memories of 1967, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003. Eighty six years of cruelty, where every time they were on the precipice of ultimate triumph, they found a way to lose in the most unbelievable and macabre manner, with each new defeat surpassing the cruelty of the previous episode. It was torture, so much so that I not so kiddingly told a friend who was taking his young children to Fenway Park for the first time that he could be charged with child abuse if he raised his kids to be Red Sox fans.
Then came 2004, where all the ghosts were exorcised in the most deliciously unexpected way against our historical nemesis, the Yankees. I remember wanting to put my foot through the television after the 19-8 drubbing that put the Sox in a three games to none hole. This was supposed to be the year, and the Sox were a powerhouse team. But they shit the bed badly in the championship series, which culminated with that drubbing on their home field.
I was angry, embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, and absolutely dreaded the prospect of being force-fed a truckload of shit from my Yankee friends, who took perverse joy in ripping open the old wounds and pouring a ton of salt into them when the Yanks finished us off. Then the miracle happened. The self-proclaimed idiots won the next four games, the only team in baseball history to accomplish that feat, to win the pennant, and then polished off the Cardinals in four straight to win the World Series for the first time in a lot of people’s lifetimes.
Not only was the curse suddenly lifted, but my beloved Sox won the World Series three more times since then. I would have been happy with that one in 2004, but this generation of Red Sox fans have known nothing but success. The little the bastards don’t know how good they have it.
So why aren’t I happy?
Ah, that’s the thing about being a fan. Our memories are short, and for Sox fans of my generation, the scars from those years preceding 2003 never go away. That’s irrational, I know, but there is nothing rational about being a fan.
This year is a perfect case in point. Last year was historical for the Boston nine. They won more games than any Red Sox team in history, had an angst free season, which is almost impossible for the die-hard Sox fan, and rolled through the playoffs, which culminated in their fourth title in the last fourteen years.
I had been looking forward to this year more than any year I can remember. I wasn’t expecting another title because that is extremely hard to accomplish, and hasn’t occurred since 2000. But I truly believed that if any team could do it, this was the one because virtually everyone on from last year’s team was returning. The team is young, hungry and humble, and I fantasized about a more difficult year, but one where they ultimately prevailed and made history. I even went so far as purchasing a partial season ticket plan so I could see my dreams unfold into reality. Then the season started.
My Red Sox lost eight of their first ten games, and looked like complete horseshit in the process. It hasn’t gone much better since then. Their record currently stands at 10-15 as I write this, and it could easily be much worse. I’ve been muttering the same thing over and over to myself for the last two weeks: how can a team that was simply awesome last year and finished with a record of 119-57, including the playoffs, look like complete doggy-doo? I still don’t have an answer, other than it is the nature of the sport.
You can’t always tell how bad a team is playing on television, but you sure as hell can in person. I’ve been to two games so far this year where they played teams they wiped the floor with last year, and they have lost both of them. They weren’t even competitive in the first game I saw against an Oriole team that lost 115 games last year, then graduated to mediocre in the second against the Tigers, who had the worst offense in the league going into the series.
This is where the insanity of fandom comes in because everything about the Red Sox is personal to me. I’m soooooooo pissed right now I can’t see straight. I’ve vowed not to watch them on television until they get their act together, which will never happen. I’ve written the season off on at least three occasions already, which is nuts given they play for six months. I see the them falling father and farther behind the other teams in their division and openly wonder if they will even make the playoffs this year.
It’s at times like these that I ask myself, why? Why do I get so invested in a game where, as K is fond of saying, all the players do is spit and touch themselves while making insane amounts of money? Why is my mood so influenced by the team’s performance? I mean, if they were expected to suck it wouldn’t matter, but these guys are really good, so it does. But why? It’s just a fucking game, after all. Nobody is dying, so what’s the big deal?
Ahhhh, but to the true fan, the fan who fits the definition that started this piece, it is life and death. Otherwise, how can a normally calm, level-headed, rational and intelligent guy like myself be reduced to a sulking five year old when the season isn’t even a month old? The answer is simple. Once it is in your blood, all rational thought goes out the window, and one is led by their emotions. My emotions are that of a kid and young adult that had his heart continuously stepped on until 2004, so when things don’t go my way with the team, I go back until that sad, hopeless place. Every….single….time!
So while the pleasure and euphoria of winning a championship is exquisite, the flip side to that coin is times like these, which, if the truth be told, happens nine times out of ten.
I must be nuts putting myself through this, but I have no choice. I am as hooked on the Red Sox as an addict is to their favorite drug. So in many respects, being a hard-core fan of any team is a sort of mental illness.
Maybe I should get a copy of the DSM-5 and see if it’s listed among the other abnormal psychology diagnoses.